Selling your teaching experience in academic job applications

Posted in: Academic Career, Advice, For PhDs, Tips & Hints

As the ‘peak’ season for applying for jobs in academia is fast approaching, we thought the time was ripe for a little mini-series on selling your experience in academic job applications. We’re starting today with selling your teaching experience; upcoming blog posts will look at selling your research experience and leadership experience.

We’ll look at how to present teaching experience effectively on a CV, teaching statement, and personal statement, but first things first …

What teaching experience do you have?
To sell your experience effectively you need to know what experience you have. Sounds obvious but I find that researchers often discount a piece of experience because it was short or doesn’t seem significant. It’s really important to think as broadly as you can about the experience you have, and demonstrate to academic recruiters that you’ve reflected on what you did, what you’ve gained from it and the contributions you’ve made (more on this later). Things that should be included in university teaching experience, no matter how little you’ve done, include: demonstrating, delivering tutorials and seminars, lectures (including guest lecturers), assisting academics in lectures, supervising project students and contributing materials to online learning environments. You could also include informal teaching/mentoring of junior colleagues in labs.

Teaching experience gained in other contexts will also add value: you could mention any schools teaching experience, outreach or public engagement activities. Skills needed for teaching can also be evidenced through presenting at conferences and research seminars.

Presenting teaching experience on a CV

Your CV for an academic role should include full details of:
• what you have taught (course titles, type of delivery (seminar, lecture etc)
• who you have taught (student numbers, level of study, year groups)
• What you did (using lots of active verbs)
• What you achieved
So, the teaching experience I did during my PhD could look something like this:

First year Teaching
French Language 1: delivered four weekly grammar tutorials to first year students in groups of 15-20. Clearly explained the key principles of French grammar and received feedback that students had grown in their understanding. Marked 100 exam scripts to a tight deadline and agreed marks with module coordinator

A few points to note from this example: numbers help to give a sense of scale and scope of what you’ve done, and active verbs put the emphasis on the actions you took; avoid passive phrases such as ‘I was required to/responsible for’.
We’re often asked what order you should put information in a CV for an academic job. This really depends on the focus of the job – for teaching-only positions, or positions where teaching is a really strong component of the role, teaching should come early in the CV; for more research-focussed lectureships teaching should come after research. The most important thing is always to tailor your CV for each job and give clear examples for the criteria.

You should also include details of any student projects you have supervised, with numbers, topic areas, and the actions that you took to supervise the student effectively. Do also mention any relevant training. It’s increasingly common to see accreditation with Advance HE as a desirable (or in some cases essential) requirement for jobs in academia, so do consider this. At the very least you need to show commitment to professional development and awareness of current issues in HE teaching.

Selling Teaching experience in a personal statement or teaching statement

Academic jobs will often ask for a range of different documents; the key advice is always to give them what they’ve asked for. It’s increasingly common for academic positions, particularly teaching-only positions, to ask for a statement of teaching interests or teaching philosophy. A few years ago, one of our academic colleagues gave me a formula for structuring teaching statements which I and the researchers I’ve worked with have found useful. In a nutshell, you need to answer these questions:

What do you teach? This could include summary statements on the breadth of your teaching experience rather than details of every course as this will be in your CV, though it of course a good idea to flag up any courses/examples that will be particularly relevant to the post you’re applying for

How do you teach? What methods do you use? You need to give concrete examples of methods and activities you use in the classroom – give specific details and help them picture you in action

Why do you teach that way and how do you know it works? Reflect on your rationale for using specific methods and how they will help students learn, and reflect also on worked has worked well for you and why. Mention impact measures that show your methods work; this could be student feedback comments, informal feedback or feedback from peer observations.

A teaching statement could also include theoretical perspectives on teaching, particularly if this helps explain your aims and approaches. It can help to show that you have awareness of current teaching practices and broader issues in HE teaching (such as employability and inclusion); Advance HE, The Office for Students and the Times Higher Education Supplement are good resources for finding information on these, and you should of course also speak to colleagues in departments (and ask to observe their teaching). You also need to show that you have researched the department and university and considered how you can add value to their teaching. Which of their current courses could you teach?

Academic positions will usually also ask for a cover letter or personal statement. These should give clear examples for each of the criteria on the person specification. If teaching experience is mentioned (as it usually is), you’ll need to give clear examples of successful teaching practice. If you’re asked to write a separate teaching statement you may not need to go into as much detail here, but you’ll usually still have one or two examples of good teaching practice, emphasising the methods you’ve used and what makes them effective. You can also talk more about your motivation for wanting to teach at that particular department or university and how your experience will add value. Wherever possible, align your teaching aims with those of departmental and university teaching and learning strategies – you can usually find these on university websites. You can also use teaching experience to provide evidence of other criteria listed in the person specification, such as communication skills or collaboration.

In a nutshell, selling your teaching experience is all about communicating a passion for teaching and what makes YOU a successful teacher. Always remember that it’s not uncommon for people to go into lecturing roles without ever having given a lecture – what is important is that you’re able to offer some teaching experience and articulate what makes your teaching effective. Use positive language throughout, give concrete examples and don’t apologise for any experience you don’t have.

Posted in: Academic Career, Advice, For PhDs, Tips & Hints


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